When Trust was longlisted for the Booker prize, it was described as a “literary puzzle about money, power and intimacy” – and that’s quite apt for this novel. By the time I got around to reading it, I had all but forgotten any previous descriptions I had read about the novel, and thus the amount of talk about the 1929 (among others) market crash was a bit unexpected. Because this is a novel and not a textbook, the finance talk eventually gives way to a highly enjoyable mystery that unfolds over four sections.
The first part is a novel within a novel. The story is about Benjamin Rask, one of the wealthiest men in the world whose interest in financial markets and manipulation may have lead to the market crash in 1929. Benjamin meets and marries the daughter of a socialite family, Helen Brevoort – like Benjamin, Helen prefers her own company to that of others, but has a fondness for art and music. Together, Helen and Benjamin are benefactors of the New York fine arts scene, hosting intimate concerts and lectures in their tastefully lavish home in New York.
In the next section, we read a memoir (or, notes that were intended to create a memoir) written by Andrew Bevel. It’s quickly apparent that Bevel and his wife, Mildred, have much in common with the lives of Benjamin and Helen recently told in the novel.
Next, we are treated to another memoir – this time, written by Ida Partenza, and introduced with an obscure reference to her connection to the Bevel estate. In this section, some of the idiosyncrasies of the previous two chapters begin to resolve themselves – we learn more about the provenance of both the novel AND the memoir. And yet, even as we learn more, we begin to ask new questions about the nature of Andrew/Benjamin and Mildred / Helen. The final chapter provides some answers, or at least enriches our understanding.
I enjoyed the structure of this novel quite a bit – each section was interesting, well developed on its own, and I loved the interplay between the sections. I love when a writer can effectively call back to seeds they’ve planted earlier in the novel, and this one had some really enjoyable revelations. There are fascinating questions to ponder about the nature of bending reality to one’s own will, and the the line between public and personal interest. How do we compose our own identity? How do we understand the identity of others – how do we know what we “know” about them?